Bulgaria’s former prime minister Boyko Borissov and three of his closest associates were arrested on March 17 during an operation by the State Agency for National Security (DANS) and the anti-corruption body, KPKONPI, state broadcaster BNT reported.
The reason for the arrests has not been announced, but according to Dnevnik news outlet, the arrests were related to some of the 120 reports of corruption sent to the European Prosecution recently.
Borissov was involved in many corruption scandals during his third and final mandate, but until now the authorities have refused to thoroughly investigate them.
Apart from Borissov, the police have also arrested his former finance minister Vladislav Goranov, his former spokeswoman Sevdelina Arnaudova and the former head of the parliament’s budget committee, Menda Stoyanova. The police are carrying out raids on their homes.
“There is no one above the law,” Prime Minister Kiril Petkov wrote on Facebook after the news of the arrests broke.
A day earlier, Petkov met the European chief prosecutor Laura Kovesi, who visited Bulgaria following an invitation from the prime minister.
Kovesi said that the European Prosecution will probe 120 reports of corruption and mismanagement in Bulgaria that concern various types of suspected crimes, including fraudulent use of European funds, mismanagement of public funds, misuse of agricultural subsidies, violations in infrastructure and compensations and recovery aid packages following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
A few days before her visit, Bulgaria’s government announced that it will take over the direct communication with the European Prosecution, trying to avoid the intervention of chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev. The ruling coalition is seeking to find a way to remove the controversial chief prosecutor, saying he has repeatedly violated laws, abused his office and shielded some politicians while putting pressure on their opponents.
Cash and gold bars
In January, the police grilled Borissov, Arnaudova and Goranov over photos released in 2020 and 2021 showing a substantial amount of €500 banknotes and gold bars stashed next to Borissov’s bed.
The photos, some distributed in the summer of 2020 and others a few days before the November 14 general election, were sent by an anonymous sender to local media. However, the prosecution declined to probe the origin of the cash and the gun, claiming there was no evidence the pictures were authentic.
After the release of the first photos, Borissov admitted they were real but claimed the cash and the gold bars were put there by an unknown female who he called 'Mata Hari'. Borissov said that woman had provided 'intimate services' to him but refused to name her.
Interior Minister Boyko Rashkov said in December that his ministry was launching a probe into the photos as the prosecution had failed to probe them.
Borissov has also been linked to the ‘Barcelonagate’ money laundering scandal that involved several people close to the former prime minister.
The information about possible money laundering involving people linked to Borissov was first revealed back in 2020 by Spanish El Periodico and confirmed at the time by the police. In February, the government said it had received new evidence indicating that €5mn was laundered in the ‘Barcelonagate’ scandal.
According to El Periodico, police in the autonomous region of Catalonia were probing whether Borissov was linked to an international money laundering scheme. The article outlined allegations that former model Borislava Yovcheva (who has been linked to Borissov), her father and two companies received more than €5mn since 2013 from non-Spanish individuals.
According to Bulgarian investigative news portal Bivol.bg, Borissov has a child with Yovcheva and he bought her the luxury house in Spain. These allegations were denied by the former prime minister several times.
Back in 2015, a leaked conversation between two judges and an unknown third individual included the claim that Borissov had bought a property in Barcelona for a girlfriend for €1.5mn.
In a separate scandal, fugitive gambling mogul Vassil Bozhkov claimed to have given €30mn in bribes to Borissov and Goranov over three years in exchange for legal protection for his business. Goranov said he had given some of the bribes to Arnaudova.
Borissov served three times as prime minister, but the final term was increasingly marred by corruption scandals, and he faced mass anti-government protests in the summer of 2020. His Gerb party took the largest share of the vote in the April 2021 general election, but was unable to form a majority. A second election also failed to produce a majority, and only after the third vote that year did Petkov's Change Continued manage to form a government.